"Righteousness Exalts a Nation"
Gangsters in 1950s Los Angeles get the Hollywood treatment in GANGSTER SQUAD. The movie is a fictionalized account of the Los Angeles Police Department’s 10-year effort to stop Mickey Cohen, the flamboyant Jewish gangster who took over the Los Angeles rackets from Bugsy Siegel. The events are compacted, and some details are a little fuzzy, but the movie is a rousing, though violent, tale of good guys against a very bad guy. Despite some surprisingly positive moral and even biblical elements, GANGSTER SQUAD has plenty of strong foul language.
The story focuses on Cohen (played by Sean Penn), two LAPD detectives, and one young woman, Grace. Grace (Emma Stone) is Cohen’s current girlfriend, but a playboy detective named Jerry Wooters (Ryan Goslng) has his eyes on her. Wooters seduces her, and the two fall into a heated affair.
Wooters is a devil-may-care detective who’s not bothered by the corruption running rampant in the city. Neither is he bothered by Cohen’s attempts to take over the city. That doesn’t mean Wooters is a bad guy. He just thinks these things will never change.
That’s not the case with Detective John O’Mara, played by Josh Brolin. John is a hardboiled cop, and hard-nosed war veteran, who hates the corruption that Mickey Cohen represents. The movie introduces John by showing him acting like a one-man wrecking ball as he interferes with some of Cohen’s thugs trying to con a would-be actress right off the train so they can rape her and make her part of Cohen’s prostitution ring.
John’s gung-ho attitude bothers his pregnant wife, who naturally worries about her husband getting killed. She also gets upset when John tells her that the police chief, the renowned William H. Parker, wants John to head an anonymous group of tough detectives working to bring down Mickey Cohen and his gang.
John, however, is determined to make Los Angeles a good place to live for his wife and family. Seeing John’s determination, his wife decides to help her husband pick his team. So, John finally recruits his team, including a grizzled older detective and his young Latino partner, a married electronics expert, and a black policeman. He also offers Det. Wooters a job, but Wooters declines. He thinks John is on a fool’s errand. Wooters’ attitude changes, however, when a shoeshine boy he knows is shot dead during the crossfire between an Italian mafia leader and one of Mickey Cohen’s hitmen.
With the “Gangster Squad” now set, John and his team bug Mickey’s fancy house and begin battling the local deacon of crime and his henchmen.
GANGSTER SQUAD the movie adds a lot of Hollywood pizzazz to this real life story. There’s an exciting car chase, a few big gunfights, and more than one very suspenseful scene. However, many of the movie’s more exciting and dramatic moments never really happened. Also, GANGSTER SQUAD isn’t as well done as Brian DePalma’s modern crime-busting classic about Elliot Ness, THE UNTOUCHABLES, with Kevin Costner or 1997’s L.A. CONFIDENTIAL with Russell Crowe as a tough detective fighting 1950s corruption in “The City of Angels.” It is, however, rousing entertainment.
The best part about GANGSTER SQUAD is its message. In many ways, it’s like a modern western, with the sheriff and his men (in this case Police Chief William Parker and his special squad of tough guys) cleaning up the town for the citizens of Los Angeles. The movie makes this point several times. It also has a couple biblical inscriptions. In fact, the most important one is from Proverbs 14:34, where Solomon writes, “Righteousness exalts a nation.” This Bible verse is clearly inscribed behind Chief Parker when he gives a major speech in the movie. GANGSTER SQUAD also has an important scene where the main hero says, after cleaning up the town, that Los Angeles isn’t paradise but that, because of their efforts, it’s starting to live up to its name “the city of angels.” Of course, as one local newsman, the late, great George Putnam, once said, Los Angeles is also “the city of angles.”
Thus, at the end of GANGSTER SQAUD, the bad guys are either dead or put in jail. Also, Det. Wooters makes an “honest woman” out of Grace. Finally, the main hero is portrayed as an upstanding war veteran and policeman with strong moral values. As Solomon said, righteousness does indeed exalt a nation. How a nation, or a city for that matter, deals with crime and vice is an important measurement of how righteous that nation or city – and its people – truly are.
Sadly, however, GANGSTER SQUAD carries an R rating for lots of very strong violence and lots of strong obscenities and profanities. Because of this, MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution.
(BBB, CC, PP, RH, LLL, VVV, S, N, AA, DD, M) Very strong moral worldview with strong biblical, redemptive, patriotic content set in a dark, violent world of cops against ruthless gangsters, some historical inaccuracies to punch up the story; 58 obscenities, 14 strong profanities, and one light profanity; very strong violence with some bloody gunshot effects such as people shot in head, blood splatters on walls in several cases, gunfights, car chase, explosions, pregnant woman in danger, vehicles turn over, machine guns blazing, people assassinated in cold bloody, bloody fist fights; implied fornication and couple lies in bed next morning, pre-marital affair, young woman is older gangster’s moll, policemen shoot two murderers dead in cold blood dead; upper male nudity; alcohol use and man is drunk in one scene; smoking and references to dealing in heroin; and, gambling references, illegal wiretap on gangster, police unit goes beyond the law to deal with ruthless gangster, blackmail, corrupt judge and corrupt police but rebuked by good police.
GANGSTER SQUAD adds a lot of Hollywood pizzazz to a real life crime story. The movie’s about the special Los Angeles police unit battling 1950s gangster Mickey Cohen. Josh Brolin plays the hardnosed war veteran and upstanding cop leading the unit. Ryan Gosling plays the ladies man and police lieutenant who’s Brolin’s right-hand man. Finally, Sean Penn plays the volatile and ruthless but charismatic Mickey Cohen. There’s a lot of blazing machine guns as Mickey rubs out his main rival and the cops fight to bring Mickey down.
GANGSTER SQUAD isn’t as well done as some similar movies. It also embellishes the truth a lot. That said, it’s a rousing piece of entertainment. Even better, it extols positive values. The main hero is an upstanding war veteran and policeman with a strong moral sense. He wants to clean up the town where he lives. Best of all, GANGSTER SQUAD has some biblical references. For example, it quotes King Solomon from Proverbs, “Righteousness exalts a nation.” That said, GANGSTER SQUAD contains very strong gun violence and many strong obscenities and profanities. Extreme caution is advised.